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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tuesday Practice Notes (9/30)

Kiante Tripp, welcome to your third position of the season.

It's official: Tripp will be the backup tight end for the foreseeable future. Beyond that, a lot remains up in the air.

Richt said Tripp has looked good at tight end so far, and the sophomore seems to be taking to his new gig.

"I like the position. I'll catch a couple passes, get a couple touchdowns here and there," he said. "I'm already blocking, so that's no problem."

Richt said that, ideally, he would like Tripp to drop about 30 pounds to play tight end, but that would basically end any chance of a return to tackle -- something Richt isn't ready to promise.

Aron White will likely be the starter against Tennessee, although Bruce Figgins could still play.

"He wants to, and he's allowed to play one more game to meet the criteria for a medical redshirt," Richt said. "He's trying. He's trying to get ready to play Tennessee, and we're not counting him out. It's pretty honorable for him to do that, but it's strictly his decision. I talked to him face to face, and it's his goal to play the game."

Tripp Chandler will miss at least one game, but probably a good bit more.

Kiante Tripp was a star basketball player in high school, and he said those skills have helped him in his transition to tight end.

"I've been playing basketball since I was little, so catching the ball and stuff like that, that's like being on the basketball court," he said.

Tripp did see some playing time against Alabama. In fact, he was the lead blocker on Knowshon Moreno's goal-line touchdown run.

"Assignment-wise, it's pretty easy because tackle and tight end work so closely together that if the tackle knows what he's doing, he usually knows what tight end is doing," tight ends coach John Lilly said.

Lilly's assessment of Tripp's future: "Right now, we're looking at it as if it's permanent for the rest of this year, but you don't know from week to week."

Oh, and what does Kiante think he might do down the line?

"By the time I leave here I might know the defensive plays, offensive plays, what the receivers are supposed to do, what the quarterback is supposed to do," Tripp said. "I might do a little snapping, might punt a little bit. I might do kickoff, too."

Other notes from Tuesday's practice:

When tight end Tripp Chandler went down with a shoulder injury against Alabama, redshirt freshman Aron White didn't immediately realize the impact of the situation.

Actually, he first thought it was fullback Shaun Chapas who had been hurt, but it wasn't long before tight ends coach John Lilly patted White on the back and told him he would be the man for the rest of the game.

"Once I realized it was Tripp, my heart went out to him, but I knew I had to focus," said White, who is likely to get his first career start Oct. 11 against Tennessee.

Chandler will miss at least one game and backup Bruce Figgins could be out the rest of the season, leaving tight end duties to the 229-pound White.

"I'm definitely not as big," White said. "I feel like I'm a little more shifty, so maybe if I can get out there and catch the ball, maybe I can show somebody something."

White is actually a full 60 pounds lighter than his new backup former offensive lineman Kiante Tripp.

The new look of the tight end depth chart will make things interesting, White said, but he doubts the coaching staff will make any significant changes to the offense with him in the lineup.

"It changes things only having one tight end," White said, "so I think the coaches are going to have to switch things up a little bit just because we don't have the depth we're used to having. But I'm sure that our base offense is going to stay the same."

-- In the first two games of the season, the Bulldogs played two teams that employed the spread offense. That meant Sam linebackers Darryl Gamble and Akeem Dent needed to learn to play up the middle if they wanted to stay on the field, since Georgia was primarily using its nickel package on defense.

As it turned out, that early cross-training could prove crucial for the Bulldogs, who may be without starting middle linebacker Dannell Ellerbe for the next few weeks. Richt said if Ellerbe can't go in Georgia's next game, Gamble and Dent would handle the Mike duties, with Darius Dewberry picking up the slack at Sam.

"We (got) some of these Sams to learn how to play in the box, learn how to play Mike," Richt said, "and some of that practice is paying off that we've got some guys who know what to do."

-- Tony Wilson has spent the past five months trying to stay on the football field, but his quest could be over soon.

Wilson suffered an ankle injury during spring drills and although he has played in every game so far this season, the ankle hasn't healed. Richt said calcium had built up in the ankle and Wilson would likely require surgery.

"That would end his season if we go in and do that, and we're leaning toward doing that," Richt said.

Wilson has just one catch for two yards this season.

-- Wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi was among the multitude of green non-contact jerseys on the practice field Tuesday. Richt said the senior wideout suffered a chest injury against Alabama, but said it wasn't anything serious.

"He had a chest injury that should settle down here by the end of the week, and he'll be able to practice by the end of the week," Richt said.

Freshman wide receiver Walter Hill may not see the field this season. He broke a bone in his hand in fall camp and has yet to play. Although the hand has healed, Richt said Hill now has a broken bone in his foot.

"I think he broke a bone in his foot, and I don't know how long that will last," Richt said.

SEC Men's Tourney Tickets On Sale

Just in case you're thinking the Dawgs will make another run...

Public tickets for the 2009 SEC Men s Basketball Tournament will go sale Wednesday, October 1 at 9:00 a.m. ET. Fans can purchase tickets through or by calling (800) 732-4849.

The tournament will take place March 12-15, 2009, at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla. Tickets will only be available by purchasing the reserved book for $300, which includes one ticket for each of the six sessions (11 games total).

Hospitality packages for the tournament will be available by contacting the Colonnade Group at (205) 320-1234.

Tampa will host the SEC Tournament for the first time in its history. The St. Pete Times Forum has previously hosted the NCAA Women s Final Four, the NCAA Men s First and Second Rounds, and the ACC Men s Tournament.

Tuesday Links (9/30)

Georgia returns to the practice field today. I'll have a post-practice report later today with an update on some of the Dawgs' key injuries. In the meantime, here are today's links...

-- ESPN's Mark Schabaugh says upset weekend wasn't the end of the line for many of college football's big lossers, including Georgia.

-- The AJC's Tony Barnhart, however, says the road back won't be easy for the Bulldogs.

-- Scout chats with Alabama commitment Anthony Orr about the Tide's win over Georgia.

-- Vote for the Redcoat Band in's Battle of the Bands contest.

-- The Athens Banner-Herald has a story about UGA ecology students who helped clean up after the UGA-Bama game.

-- Rivals has a story on UGA tight end recruit Arthur Fontaine.

-- A UGA baseball player was arrested over the weekend.

-- Deadspin wants to know what happens to the confiscated "GameDay" signs. Since I was a firsthand witness to this over the weekend, I can tell you: ESPN has an enforcer -- an extremely tall, silver-haired guy with a mustache -- and he doesn't have a sense of humor. I will also say, while some of the signs taken were definitely over the top (something about Tim Tebow and Sarah Palin), there were plenty of others that seemed fine (a cutout of shirtless Lee Corso).

-- I know I shouldn't encourage this type of behavior, but you have to admit, Danny Ware knows how to take a mug shot.

-- Call it a coincidence, but after Ware and former UGA tight end Martrez Milner were both in attendance for the Alabama game, Milner suddenly has a new deal with Ware's New York Giants.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Grading the Game: Georgia vs. Alabama

Saturday's game wasn't pretty, so obviously, there aren't many good grades to give out. Here's a rundown of my overall thoughts on the game, and feel free to leave your impressions, comments or criticisms (and I'm sure there'll be a few) in the comments section.

PASSING: A look at Matthew Stafford's final numbers makes it seem like Georgia had a good day throwing the football, but 205 of his 274 passing yards came after the half when the Bulldogs were already trailing by a large margin. Georgia simply couldn't stay on the field early, and that might have been the biggest problem for Stafford. The Alabama secondary had his receivers blanketed early, and he ended up throwing a number of bad passes into traffic out of frustration. For much of the game, Stafford far too closely resembled the impetuous quarterback of his first two seasons than the calm and collected leader he had been so far this year. His interception just before the half was really the low point for Georgia. A score on that drive, and this might have been a game. The turnover basically ended any realistic shot the Dawgs had at a comeback.

The receivers certainly didn't make Stafford's job any easier. Even when he had time to throw, he rarely had anyone to throw to -- at least early in the game. There were a number of big drops in the second half, and A.J. Green's fumble after catching a pass that would have given Georgia a crucial first down in the first half were killer. Green did finish with six catches for 88 yards and Michael Moore added five for 65, but most of that was picked up when the Dawgs were well out of contention.


Well, the running game didn't go anywhere in the first half. After that, it was non-existent. The Bulldogs had 32 of their 50 yards on the ground in the first half, but things never got going on the ground. There wasn't much running room for Knowshon Moreno against a fierce Alabama front seven, and once the Dawgs were down by 24, there wasn't many opportunities to run the football. In pass protection, the Dawgs' running backs at least did a decent job of blocking. For the second straight game, Richard Samuel didn't touch the football on offense, but that could change in two weeks against Tennessee if Moreno isn't ready to go.


Really, the grade here is more of an incomplete. The pass protection was shaky but not terrible, but Georgia's early deficit basically killed any chance the offensive line had of posting a good game. The Bulldogs abandon the run early, and Alabama's pass rush was able to pin its ears back, knowing the pass was coming. There weren't many running lanes open early, and Stafford was sacked twice, but all in all, the results could have been worse. Much of the pressure Stafford faced was a result of simply finding no one open downfield, and the running game never really had a chance to get going. No one will look at Saturday's performance as a good one for the offensive line, but considering the inexperience it has and the physically gifted Alabama front, the unit held its own. Perhaps most encouraging was Georgia's ability to continue to throw the football -- particularly the deep ball -- in the second half when everyone knew what was coming. The line improved as the game went on, and that trial-by-fire for the young linemen might be a major benefit as the season wears on.


Just when Georgia thought it had things turned around, the defensive line went back to its old habits. The defensive ends did nothing against Alabama's offensive line, and quarterback John Parker Wilson had all day to throw the football. The interior of the line slowed Alabama's running game but was hardly dominant, and without the pressure coming off the end, it didn't matter. Georgia's ends have routinely struggled against cut blocks -- the same scheme South Carolina employed -- and end up taken out of plays way too quickly. In many respects, Georgia was simply overly aggressive after falling behind, and the D-ends rush to run right into Alabama's cut-block schemes was a perfect example. Both the pass rush and secondary are major concerns for the Dawgs going forward, and while improvement in one area might help the other, neither seems like a simple fix.


Once again, this was the strength of Georgia's defense, but even the linebacking corps didn't have a great game. Rennie Curran was stellar as usual, leading the team with 14 tackles, but the loss of Dannell Ellerbe in the first quarter was big -- and could continue to haunt the Dawgs depending on how much time he'll miss. Akeem Dent's roughing the passer penalty negated a fumble on Alabama's first drive -- a play that, although early, may have swung the game. Dent did have Georgia's only sack (and 10 tackles), but the linebackers were far from spectacular on the blitz. Alabama's offensive line did a tremendous job of buying Wilson just enough time to get the ball out on the blitz, and he had receivers open on mid-level slant patterns often.


Wilson was dominant in this game. Georgia's secondary left far too many open receivers, and combined with the lack of a pass rush, Wilson had both receivers to throw to and time to get them the ball. Prince Miller was beaten on several occasions, and Julio Jones gave Asher Allen fits at times. It's hard to pin all the blame on the secondary when it clearly didn't get much help up front, but when the opposing quarterback is 13-of-16, including hitting on his first seven passes, there's plenty of blame to go around.


Blair Walsh actually began the game with a touchback on the kickoff. After that, it got ugly. Alabama's average starting field position after a punt or kick was its own 36. Brian Mimbs, usually very reliable, was a disaster. He had punts of 29, 19 and 30 yards. Alabama's Javy Arenas had 77 yards on four returns in the game, and the coverage was average at best. Walsh did connect on a 43-yard field goal, and Prince Miller's 92-yard punt return was easily the highlight of the game for Georgia -- rekindling the Bulldogs' faint hopes of a victory to start the fourth quarter.


I'm just going to say this and then brace for the obvious backlash I'll get: This loss cannot be pinned on Willie Martinez. I've been covering Georgia since Martinez's first season as defensive coordinator, and for whatever reason, he has been fan's favorite whipping boy pretty much since Day 1. Numbers don't tell an entire story, I know, but in 2005, Georgia was eighth nationally in scoring defense, in 2006, the Dawgs were eighth in total defense and in 2007, they were 14th. Those are pretty good numbers. On top of that, Martinez gets along great with his players, has produced tons of NFL talent and at no point since I've been covering him has he been anything less than accountable for his team's play.

But that's the past. Let's look at Saturday's game. Does Martinez deserve the blame for Georgia's inability to stop Alabama's offense? Frankly, I just don't see how he does. Every pundit who previewed the game said the same thing: Put the game in John Parker Wilson's hands. That's exactly what Martinez did. Wilson took advantage. Alabama actually ran for less than 3 yards per carry (Georgia actually had a higher YPC) but the defensive ends were never able to pressure Wilson, and he was nearly perfect in dismantling the Bulldogs' defense. It wasn't the game plan that was the problem -- it was the execution.

If I have a criticism of Martinez, it's not that he is a bad game planner, it's that he is often slow to make in-game adjustments. In each game so far this season, the reaction time to the opponents' successes has been a bit too long. It didn't matter in the first four games when Georgia's D was dominant early, but against Alabama, the changes needed to come quicker.

On the other side of the ball, Mike Bobo really didn't seem to have a great game plan going in, but again, it's hard to put all the blame on him. The early hole Georgia found itself in forced Bobo to abandon the run early, and the inexperienced offensive line limited what the Dawgs could do in the passing game against such a talented Alabama defense. Still, there didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to much of the play calling -- with the Stafford-to-King-to-Massaquoi-to-Stafford reverse/flea-flicker/halfback pass or whatever you want to call it. Georgia still had a faint glimmer of hope at that point, and that was a perfect example of going all-in with a bad hand.

And, of course, there were the penalties. Georgia is looking more and more like the Oakland Raiders every week. It's sloppy play, mental mistakes and -- worst of all -- the flags seem to come at the most inopportune times. Mark Richt basically said he hasn't done a good enough job of letting his players know how important cutting down the penalties needs to be, but that admission is too little too late. I said last week I couldn't understand why Richt was so quick to downplay the flags. Yes, the officiating in the Arizona State game was dismal, but as a coach, you can't let your players off the hook by blaming the zebras. This needs to be fixed, and if Georgia's staff doesn't spend the entire bye week harping on penalties, then fans really will have something to complain about.

Some credit should also be given to the coaching staff for keeping the players' heads in the game in the second half. It would have been easy to roll over, take their beating and live to fight another day. Instead, Georgia came out in the second half and played aggressively and, frankly, looked a lot more impressive. If only they had shown that mental toughness in the first half.

I'm not going to venture to guess whether Georgia was mentally ready to play Saturday, but I also won't argue with anyone who thinks all the hype overwhelmed the Bulldogs. I'd much prefer to see a coach like Richt who seemed to embrace the moment rather than obsess over it the way someone like Nick Saban would, but there's really little question Alabama was the better coached team Saturday.


I'm adding this as a bonus category once again because I think the fans really deserve some acknowledgment here. There are a lot of teams around the country that would be playing in a half-empty stadium in the second half when the score was 31-0, but Georgia's fans stayed until the bitter end. The "blackout" may have proved to be a bit of a distraction for the players (although, I really think the issue was that a.) Alabama was better and b.) the blackout didn't affect the Tide) but it had the perfect effect on the crowd. I've never heard Sanford Stadium as loud as it was at kickoff Saturday. Unfortunately, it was a long time before there was anything else to cheer about.

"I thought they were phenomenal," Richt said of the fans. "I told the team at halftime, they certainly deserved better than what they saw the first half. When we rolled back out in the second half, they were still there, they were still ready to cheer and did a heck of a job. I'm thankful that we did fight a whole lot better than we did a year ago against Tennessee."


Massaquoi Named CLASS Award List

Georgia senior receiver Mohamed Massaquoi is one of 30 NCAA Division I football student-athletes to be named a candidate for the inaugural Lowe s Senior CLASS Award, it was announced Monday.

An acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School, the Lowe s Senior CLASS Award focuses on the total student-athlete and encourages those leaders to use their platform in athletics to make a positive impact on their circle of influence. This prestigious awards program was launched during the 2001-02 basketball season, added six additional sports in 2007, and has now expanded this year to include NCAA football. To be eligible for the award, a student-athlete must be classified as an NCAA Division I senior and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence: classroom, character, community and competition.

These 30 student-athletes will be narrowed down to 10 finalists midway through the regular season, and those 10 names will then be placed on the official ballot. The ballots will be distributed through a nationwide voting system to media, coaches, and fans who will select the candidate that best exemplifies excellence in the Four C s of classroom, character, community and competition.

The overall winner of the Lowe s Senior CLASS Award for football will be announced during a 2008-09 post-season college football event.

The award program is designed exclusively for college seniors who are utilizing their complete athletic eligibility, remaining committed to their university and pursuing the many rewards that a senior season can bring. For more information, visit

Massaquoi has 18 catches for 228 yards and two touchdowns through five games in 2008.

UGA-Tenn Set for CBS

From UGA Athletics:

The Saturday, Oct. 11, SEC football game between Georgia and Tennessee in Athens will be televised by CBS with kickoff set for 3:30 p.m. ET.

This will be Georgia s second appearance this season on CBS. The Sept. 13 Georgia-South Carolina game in Columbia was a CBS telecast. Georgia has appeared on CBS a total of 57 times and the Bulldogs have a record of 34-22-1.

Inside 'GameDay'

I spent quite a bit of time with the cast and crew of ESPN's "College GameDay" over the weekend. It was definitely an interesting experience seeing all that goes into getting the show on the air. In case you didn't get a chance to check it out in Sunday's Telegraph, you can find my story on the experience here.

I'd also recommend checking out our photo gallery from"GameDay" and Paul Dehner's blog post of his favorite signs from the event.

(NOTE: For some reason the link to the photo gallery is not working. Here is the URL:

There were some interesting tidbits that didn't make it into the final story, however, so I figured I'd post them here. If you love or hate ESPN, I think this gives you a bit better understanding of what some of the big boys at the network think about their jobs.

From "GameDay's" senior coordinating producer Michael Fountain:

On when Lee Corso selects which mascot head he'll wear: "He might know as soon as we pick the game Saturday night, he might know who he's going with. There's no set day when he calls us and let's us know, but I got to tell you, he takes that seriously. He will call and then ask you again and then call you again and make sure you got it. He's been here 15 minutes and he's looking for the mascot head."

On what "GameDay" means for the schools it covers: "It goes to the credibility we've built up through the years, how we approach things. The guys are so well versed in the game. I think that all plays a role. I think the coaches know the popularity of ‘GameDay.' It helps local recruiting when we show up at a campus. If you look into their media guides the next year, ‘GameDay' will be right there in the first couple of pages, and it sends a message to recruits that we're a big-time program."

On the preparation that goes into the show: "The popularity of the show has gone through the roof. It's been record ratings the last few years. Obviously we're doing something right. People at home are watching. The crowds get bigger. The guys' popularity is growing. The guys are just over the top in terms of how popular they are with the fans and with good reason. They really take this seriously. They put in a lot of work. People think they just show up at the set on Saturday morning and sit down and just ad lib for two hours. That's the furthest thing from the truth. They put in a heck of a lot of preparation time."

On what goes into selecting a location for the broadcast: "'GameDay' has become almost a year-round thing for us. We meet constantly. Last year we were meeting in February for this year. We look at the upcoming schedule, we identify four or five schools every week that look like possibles. During the summertime we sort of explore that list. If we've been to that school and have a good location, there's no need to do a site survey. If it's a new school, somewhere like Georgia, we'll try to do site surveys and get them out of the way early before the season starts, lock in a location. Once the season starts it's such a scramble from week to week. A lot of people don't understand, we generally don't know where we're going until Saturday night or Sunday morning. It's 80-some people, it's five rigs, it's the bus, it's travel, it's hotels, it's a big scramble."

On how "GameDay" is trying to change its look: "I think schools for so long thought we had to have the stadium in the backdrop, and we've sort of been moving away from that. We want to make sure everybody understands we don't need the stadium. We're trying to get more of a campus feel, especially for a later kickoff."

From analyst Lee Corso:

On his preparation: "I read everything I can find. I read all the newspapers. I call some of the sports information guys. I don't ever call coaches. The reason I don't call coaches is if you call Mark Richt and you don't call Nick Saban, everybody says you like Mark Richt. I haven't called a coach in 15 years. If you call one, you've got to call them all. I don't go to walkthroughs. Haven't been to a walkthrough in 18 years."

On people's reaction to his on-air comments: "I don't ever say anything that I don't believe in 100 percent. Never. If you notice, when they ask me my opinion, I tell them the reason why, given an opinion and tell them why. People don't really get upset if you tell them why you say something. They get upset if you say something and get the hell out of there."

From analyst Kirk Herbstreit:

On dealing with celebrity: "I've been doing this now for 13 years and you don't get caught up in it. You don't allow yourself to be that person that they're talking to. It's like you play a character almost – the person that they love or they hate or whatever they feel. If you buy in to who they try to elevate you to be, then I think you put yourself in a position that you're living in a life that, to me, is not realistic. I've always been a down-to-earth person, but I can see how people buy into that celebrity status. I think it's a mistake."

On watching football with the cast and crew after the show: "That's the best part of my job is to get on the bus and watch the games. You do so much work throughout the week to get ready for the show and then you do the show and there's people all around the set and you want to thank them for coming, it's hot, you've definitely got to go say hello to the fans. Then you get on the bus and it's air conditioned, there's food on the bus, and there's five TVs with every game you need to see. It's like being at a sports bar and you're getting paid for it."

On the Les Miles incident: "I don't look to break stories, but coaches call me. So when they call me, now I have information. So my whole point with all that is, I have so much respect for coaches and they have such an open-door policy with me, they tell me things that they probably don't tell a whole lot of people. There's a trust factor there, and I look at that as something that's very important to me, and I don't want to be caught in a situation where coaches feel like I don't have their best interests in mind. Those circumstances, you can only imagine what went on behind the scenes there. I didn't stir anything up. I didn't have an erroneous source. I got a phone call from a coach who was actually going to be on that staff. So it wasn't like I was trying to dig something up. But I'll definitely think twice again before I get involved in any sort of story breaking."

Monday Links (9/29)

Not a ton of links today. Almost all the news, after all, is bad. Injuries, injuries and more injuries. But here are a few other points of interest...

-- The Albany Herald's Paul Dehner writes that Saturday's game revealed Georgia's fatal flaw.

-- The Savannah Morning News' Adam Van Brimmer says fans should keep Saturday's loss in perspective.

-- The AJC's Mark Bradley says Georgia learned some valuable lessons Saturday.

-- The Red & Black looks at the struggles of Georgia's young linemen.

-- It won't help them this year, unfortunately, but the AJC says a top tight end recruit has Georgia near the top of his list.

-- Get the Picture sifts through the painful aftermath of the game to try to find answers.

-- "GameDay" is staying in the SEC this week, deciding to head to... Vandy?!?

I'll have my retrospective on the carnage from Saturday a bit later today. Just a reminder, too: Georgia only practices Tuesday and Thursday this week, so blog updates will not be as frequent.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Richt Sunday Comments

Some big news from Mark Richt's teleconference today:

-- First, Knowshon is anything but certain for Georgia's next game against Tennessee.

"Knowshon has a chance to play in this next game. He's got a pretty good contusion on the elbow but he's already beginning to get some good movement back. The chances of him playing in this next game are certainly better than Durham, but it's certainly not guaranteed."

Richt on the chances of Knowshon playing:

"I would say I'm not sure if he'll play or not. Stafford, he's going to play. Ron thinks there's a very good possibility (Moreno) will play, but he's not going to sit here and say for certain. This kind of injury, the swelling has to go down, he's got to get his movement back, he's got to feel that it's not so sore that it would keep him from playing full speed. It just depends how quickly this thing heals. So I'm not trying to be evasive, all I'm saying is Ron feels there's a good chance he'll play."

-- Speaking of injuries, the tight end position just got awfully thin. Tripp Chandler could miss the next few games with a shoulder injury, and backup Bruce Figgins could miss the rest of the season with a separated shoulder. Figgins could play against Tennessee, but that sounds unlikely. The result, Richt said, is that Kiante Tripp will likely move to TE for a while -- maybe the rest of the season -- and Georgia will also consider using Brannan Southerland or Shaun Chapas at TE or running with more four-WR or two-RB, three-WR sets. Right now, Aron White will the starter.

"Tripp probably will not be playing in the next ballgame and maybe not the next couple. Bruce has got an injury that is going to require surgery but the whole idea is deciding when to do it. Sometimes you can wear a brace and try to make it through the year with the shoulder injury that he has and have surgery at the end of the season. On the other hand, you could go ahead and do it now knowing that you might not make it through with just a brace. I don't want to speak for Bruce because this is one of those injuries where you need the player to have his input and their family to have their input, and from what I understand, the last I talked to Ron (Courson), the last I heard he was going to have the surgery now or later. I'm hearing Bruce was going to do it sooner than later. He could technically play one more game and still meet the medical DQ status that is set out by the NCAA. So he could actually play against Tennessee and have surgery afterward and then take the DQ, a medical redshirt. I just don't know if it's very practical or if there's any chance he'll be ready to play for the Tennessee game, but I'm pretty sure he will have surgery in the next two to three weeks and apply for that medical redshirt."

"Aron White certainly will be playing there, and he got some more playing time than you'd want him to this last ballgame. Kiante Tripp was wearing No. 83 in this last ballgame and he was on the ready to play tight end for us. He might have gotten in a little bit at the two-tight end situations. Kiante, more than likely, will continue to work at the tight end spot quite possibly for the rest of the year if we don't get Bruce back and depending on how long before Tripp gets back."

Taking away Bryce Ros' redshirt seems unlikely, but Richt addressed the issue:

"It could. That's one of the options is to have him play. Another option is to work our way through it with Kiante and Aron. We could even consider messing around with more four-receiver sets and three-receiver, two-back sets. You could have personnel groupings. There's a lot of ways we could try to skin this cat. With Chandler not being a season-ending injury, you try to keep Bryce from having to take his redshirt, but I'm not guaranteeing anything on that."

Other news and notes...

On Georgia's No. 11 ranking:

"I think that's about right. We played a very good team. After playing them I'm convinced they're one of the best teams in the country if not the best. Challenges come their way, and they've handled it with relative ease. We did certainly battle our tails off and make it a little bit of a game in the fourth quarter, but they took care of business."

On having wiggle room in the national title hunt:

"Last year a two-loss team won the nationally championship. So if it's like last year, there would be more wiggle room. But we can't expect there to be any more. "

On the possibility of a team going undefeated:

"I'd be surprised if somebody makes it through unscathed. It depends on their conference too but I think there's a good chance everybody gets hit before it's over. Look how quickly things have happened already."

On other injuries:

"Kris Durham, his ankle was a pretty significant sprain. He's going to miss a while. I don't know how long a while is, but I'd say a few games is as far as we could probably project on that one."

"Ellerbe has an outside shot at playing this next game. He would still be questionable for the next game, but not out of the question."

"(Stafford) had no concussion. We didn't think he had a concussion during the game, but his head was pounding pretty good. He had a good headache. We wanted to be sure about everything. But he's fine, and he'll be ready to play in the next ballgame."

On Brian Mimbs' struggles:

"He wasn't trying to directionally kick. We were not asking him to do that. We were just asking him to do his normal thing, and I think he knew that part of the objective was to kick the ball high, and I think he tried to overdo it in that regard."

"The first kick, he was halfway trying to pooch the darn thing, and that was too close for him to pooch the thing. We should have had Butler do it. And after that, he had one or two that just weren't very pretty, not like Brian at all."

On the penalties:

"I've got to send a stronger message than we've sent to this point, and that's probably my No. 1 priority right now is to make sure I do that."

On the roughing the passer flags:

"I don't know how much different we've been in the past. When you're coming hard at a guy and he cuts it loose, the official says it's a late hit. They've all been pretty close to where the guy can't get out of the play. But a couple have been hands to the face or the helmet and we've gotten called for that. If the ball's gone we've got to find a way to dodge those son of a guns, and if we don't, it'll continue to cost us. It was a very crucial penalty on that first drive."

On pressuring the quarterbacks:

"The question is, do we need to add to the four-man rush to get pressure on the quarterback? So far, I think that has proven to be true that we do need to do that. Now, whether we need to play man or zone behind that concept, I think we could end up playing a little bit of both."

On the injuries:

"You know, I've never been one to complain a whole lot about injuries. We know they happen. We expect whoever is there to step in and play well. You do have some guys now who do have some opportunities they weren't going to have before. We'll see how these guys respond to their opportunities, and maybe someone will step up and be productive for us."

On the offensive line:

"I watched them pretty close, and I believe they blocked better in pass protection overall than my impression was when the game ended. But by no means was it blocking over and over, but we won some battles and I thought a lot of times, four out of the five were doing an outstanding job."

Postgame Notes and Injury Update

Matthew Stafford didn't come off the field, even with Georgia trailing by 18 points late in the game. By the time he got to the locker room following the Bulldogs' 41-30 loss, however, his head was spinning.

Stafford suffered a minor head injury, head coach Mark Richt said, but Georgia's trainers determined it was not a concussion.

"He's got more of a headache than anything else," Richt said. "His head was pounding pretty good. During the game we checked and (trainer Ron Courson) didn't think it was (a concussion). I talked to Matthew and he was very clear minded. He didn't lose any consciousness or any thought process."

Stafford finished the game with 274 yards passing and two touchdowns, but his injury was hardly the only one to a Georgia star.

Running back Knowshon Moreno left the game early with an elbow injury, and Richt said he was unsure how serious it was.

"We don't know," Richt said. "We're just going to have to wait and see what's up with that elbow."

Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe left the game with a knee injury in the first half and was immediately taken to the locker room.

"(Courson) doesn't think it's a season-ending situation," Richt said. "He thinks he'll miss some playing time though."

Tight end Tripp Chandler and wide receiver Kris Durham left the game with injuries as well. Chandler returned to action after injuring his shoulder, and Richt said he would likely play when Georgia returns to action in two weeks.

Durham's situation was more serious. The junior injured his ankle after making a catch in the third quarter. Richt said he didn't believe there was a break, but said Durham was questionable at best for Georgia's game against Tennessee.

"Kris Durham, pretty good sprain," Richt said. "It's just, you don't know how long ankles take, but it was a pretty significant ankle sprain."


Georgia had a chance to grab the top spot in the polls with a win Saturday, but instead it will take a tumble down the rankings along with several other high-profile teams that lost this week.

That's a good-news bad-news situation, Richt said. The loss hurts, but unlike last season when the Bulldogs dropped a game to Tennessee and couldn't fight their way back into the SEC East race, this year they still control their own destiny.

"The best news about today is we still have a chance to control what happens, where a year ago, we did not have that ability," Richt said. "Just about everybody in the East still has a chance."


The fans were excited, the energy was high, and the noise in Sanford Stadium was at an all-time high, Richt said. That part of the Bulldogs' blackout worked.

On the field, however – that was another story.

So when he was asked after the game whether Georgia would retire the black jerseys that had helped to inspire two wins last season, Richt remained noncommittal.

"If you're looking for atmosphere, we had atmosphere. It got as loud as you could get, but they were ready. I don't know what we're going to do with that. I don't want to say anything I'm going to have to go back on."


Georgia fullback Brannan Southerland didn't return to the offense Saturday, but he did get his first taste of playing time of the season.

The senior played on several special teams, including filling in as the personal protector on punt formations after missing the first four games of the season following foot surgery.

Richt said he expects Southerland to be back at fullback when the Bulldogs take on Tennessee in two weeks.

"Any time you come off an injury, you never know what's going to happen," Southerland said. "You can't really plan it out, you've just got to be smart about it."


Prince Miller's 92-yard punt return in the fourth quarter was Georgia's longest since 1952… Zack Renner became the first Bulldogs player since David Pollack to block two punts in the same season when he got a hand on an Alabama punt in the second half… Justin Houston earned his first career start at defensive end… Stafford set a career high with 24 completions, while receiver Mohamed Massaquoi caught a pass for the 33rd consecutive game.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Live Game Blog: Georgia vs. Alabama

POSTGAME UPDATE: Let's take a look back at my five keys to the game I posted before kickoff:

1.) No turnovers. Stafford has been INT-free, and he needs to keep a 0 on that stat line.

Stafford threw his first two interceptions of the year, and probably could have had a couple more. The Alabama secondary was very good tonight, but the third-down completion to Green that ended up an interception by Hightower not only killed a promising drive, but put Georgia so far behind the 8-ball in the second half, it needed a miracle to come back.

2.) Get an early lead. Don't let Alabama hang around. Come out playing aggressive and get 'Bama off its game plan.

This couldn't have gone much worse, and the roughing the passer penalty that negated a fumble recovery deep in Georgia territory is probably to blame. The Bulldogs barely saw the ball in the first quarter, and before they had a chance to catch their breath, the game was already out of hand.

3.) Quick passes and draw plays. Georgia's offensive line -- on paper at least -- is overmatched, so the Bulldogs would be well served to force the Tide's pass rush to be a bit less aggressive.

This never really developed. Georgia had no clear offensive game plan in the first half, and Stafford was either under pressure or had nowhere to throw the ball. The running game never got going, and the game was nearly out of reach before the offense found its stride. Alabama owned the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Georgia didn't have a rushing first down until the final minutes of the game.

4.) Kickoff and punt coverage. Javy Arenas can be a game changer for 'Bama, and Georgia has struggled on special teams so far. Alabama has yet to prove it can sustain any long drives against a tough defense, so don't hand the Tide good field position.

This was a disaster. Brian Mimbs had about as bad a day as a punter can have, and Blair Walsh wasn't much better. Between the poor kicks, the turnovers and Javy Arenas' strong returns, Alabama consistently had great field position.

5.) Stop the run. Put the game on John Parker Wilson's shoulders. If he beats you, well, it was meant to be.

Other than the penalties -- which were the biggest difference -- this was the turning point. I, along with many others, made the mistake of assuming just because Wilson HADN'T led 'Bama to a win meant he COULDN'T lead 'Bama to a win. Georgia actually did a nice job of stopping the run early, but Wilson picked the D apart. The lack of a consistent pass rush and the poor play by the secondary didn't help, but Wilson deserves the credit for this one. He was downright good.

Add that all up and you've got the perfect recipe for exactly what we saw on the field. The truth is, Georgia wasn't as good as we thought it was coming into this game, and it isn't as bad as it looked in the first half. The resilliance the Dawgs showed in the second half is encouraging, but there are major flaws that need to be fixed -- and none of them should come as a surprise. The O line has holes. The pass rush needs to get better. The secondary needs to step up. The kick and punt coverage are problematic. The penalties are brutal. This is all stuff we've talked about before, but they all happened to come home to roost tonight. It wasn't pretty, but it shouldn't come as a total shock. Better days lie ahead.

FOURTH QUARTER UPDATE: Prince Miller taketh away, and Prince Miller giveth. Yeah, it's backward, but who cares. After being burned on a number of passes in the first half, Miller took the Alabama punt and brought it back 95 yards for a TD. We have ourselves a ballgame.

Short pass up the middle goes for big yardage. Georgia really needs a turnover. A field goal essentially ends the game, barring a miracle. A stop, and they've got a shot. I've been really impressed with Wilson's mobility so far. He's been able to avoid the rush throughout and he's made quick decisions on whether to get out of the pocket or dump the ball off. I've never been a huge fan of Wilson, but he's been excellent tonight. Georgia came up with another stop, but Alabama booted a field goal to go up 17. Where's Zack Renner when you need him?

How many penalties can Georgia kill itself with? It's not just the insane amount of laundry on the field, but the penalties have come at the worst possible time. Stafford hit Green to convert a fourth-and-18, but a holding penalty negated that, too. You knew penalties were going to come back to haunt Georgia at some point, but this was just ridiculous. That's ballgame folks.

THIRD QUARTER UPDATE: Georgia players and coaches spent a lot of time the past week downplaying the penalties, but there was no doubt they were a problem. Blame the awful refs last week if you must, but that doesn't change the fact that this has been an ongoing problem. A false start on the first play of the second half brings Georgia's flag count this game to seven.

Kris Durham finally added a spark to the Dawgs' offense with two big catches on their first drive, but of course he got hurt on the second catch and was carried off the field. Looks relatively serious. I'm really not sure what else could go wrong for Georgia at this point, short of Knowshon declaring for the draft in the middle of the next drive. Stafford had Michael Moore open for an easy touchdown on second down, but overthrew him. It wouldn't have mattered anyway, as an ineligible receiver penalty negated the play. That's eight flags now. Stafford's third-down pass was thrown to Moore in double coverage and fell incomplete. Stafford has looked like the Stafford of two years ago -- just bad decisions made out of frustration. Blair Walsh at least got the Dawgs on the scoreboard with a field goal. 31-3.

Not blame Stafford for everything so far. Look, when you're down big, your game plan goes out the window, but from the start it just didn't seem like Georgia even HAD an offensive game plan. It was sort of all over the place. When you're losing 31-3, there's plenty of blame to go around, but boy has Georgia looked unprepared for this game. I thought Mark Richt was supposed to have been spying on 'Bama in Week 1, after all.

Got to hand it to the crowd -- they are still pretty loud as Georgia forced 'Bama to punt for the first time. A relatively quick TD keeps the game within reach, but it will require a significant turnaround from how the Dawgs played the first half.

Well, so much for that. Three-and-out for Georgia. That may have been the last gasp of hope. Mumbs again boots a brutal punt. What happened to this guy? Two weeks ago he was a hero against South Carolina. Now it looks like he's got the punter's version of the yips or whatever it was that kept Mackey Sasser from throwing back to the pitcher back in the mid-90s.

At least the Dawgs' D is looking better. Akeem Dent landed a nice sack on Wilson and Geno Atkins put a quick stop to Alabama's draw play on third down. Then Zack Renner added to his legacy, partially blocking the Tide's punt to give Georgia strong field position to start its drive.

On a second-and-nine after Georgia looked sharp, Georgia decides to run a flea-flicker. The handoff went to Caleb King, who handed to Massaquoi who badly overthrew Stafford down the sideline. This was a wasted play. Again, I just don't get the playcalling. Is this really the time for a play like that? You're finally moving the ball, and then you put yourself in a third-and-long by having your receiver throw a pass to your QB? Stafford managed to convert a fourth-down play, but this just seemed like grasping at straws to me. Stafford completed a nifty pass down the sideline to A.J. Green who hauled it in at the 2. This is more like what we expected from Georgia's offense -- but is it too little, too late? Knowshon finished off the drive with his 10th touchdown of the year -- 31-10 Alabama.

INJURY NOTE: Durham is still laid up on the trainer's bench. He has his right ankle wrapped. Don't expect him back in this ballgame.

Adding to the list of things I don't get -- on the ensuing kickoff, Walsh quasi-pooched the ball and didn't get any air under the ball. Alabama starts at its own 39. Down three scores, I wouldn't have been opposed to trying to catch 'Bama off guard with an on-side kick there, but Georgia chose the worst of both worlds. Ugh.

That's the end of the third. (SIDE NOTE: Martrez Milner is on the sideline. Sadly, he can't play.) Anyway, I've got to bang out a game story, so I'll be updating less frequently in the fourth. I'll have a postgame add-on though.

SECOND QUARTER UPDATE: First quarter time of possession: UGA 3:41, Alabama 11:19. Ugly, ugly numbers. Stafford has looked to A.J. Green a few times already, but to no avail. The bigger problem here is first down -- Georgia's not getting yardage on first and are throwing the ball too much.

I'm not sure what happened to Brian Mimbs. He booted a whopping 18-yard punt. Nothing is going right for Georgia, and Bama appears to be getting its running game going -- a 9 yard gain on first down for Glen Coffee. This game is reaching a point where Georgia needs a momentum changer. At worst, they need to hold Bama to a FG here or things could get out of hand quickly. Once again, Wilson has plenty of time in the pocket and once again Julio Jones is wide open. Coffee finishes off the drive with a 3-yard touchdown. 17-0 Bama. Hate to overstate the obvious, but this is a worst-case scenario for Georgia.

INJURY UPDATE: Dannell Ellerbe has an injured left knee. He return is uncertain at this point. Like I said, worst-case scenario.

ANOTHER INJURY UPDATE: Tripp Chandler was shaken up and helped off the field after Alabama's kickoff.

Alabama's secondary is doing a great job. Stafford has had time on the majority of his throws, but just hasn't had anyone to throw to. The Tide just aren't biting on play-action. When the Dawgs finally made a play -- a first-down completion to A.J. Green, Green let the ball fly out of his hands and into the hands of Dont'a Hightower. I'd love to call this an old fashioned butt-whoopin, but it's not. Georgia is just repeatedly shooting itself in the foot.

Once again Alabama converts on a third-and-long to set up a first-and-goal. Prince Miller has looked awful tonight -- of course, he's hardly alone. Wilson's end-zone toss on first-and-goal was his first incompletion of the game. Upchurch finishes the drive with a run right up the gut for a TD. 24-0 Alabama.

Alabama's scoring drives so far: First TD comes after a fumble is negated by a roughing the passer penalty on Georgia. First FG is aided by 25 yards in penalties on Georgia. Second TD is aided by an 18-yard punt by Brian Mimbs. And fourth TD is handed to the Tide after A.J. Green literally hands the ball to Dont'a Hightower. Getting beat is one thing, but this is as much about Georgia throwing the game away as it is about Alabama winning it.

In what I think is a very smart move, Stafford went right back to A.J. for a 15-yard gain. Don't let the kid's confidence get shaken. Smart play. Moreno simply isn't finding running room. Bama's D line is dominating the line of scrimmage.

INJURY UPDATE: Tripp Chandler is back in the game.

Stafford simply has no one to throw to. Alabama's secondary has played a perfect ballgame throughout the first half. Georgia needs a stop before halftime -- something it hasn't done yet -- and needs to go the locker room to regroup. This is simply a disaster.

Glen Coffee is just running right up Georgia's gut right now and Wilson has been nearly perfect. The defense is on its heels. First downs so far: Alabama 16, Georgia 3. Yikes. Wilson ends yet another drive by tossing a beautiful back-of-the-end-zone pass to Jones. It was good coverage by Asher Allen -- nearly interference, to be honest -- but Wilson laid it out perfectly. SCORE: 31-0 Alabama. Wilson's numbers so far: 10-of-11 for 141 yards and a TD. The last time Georgia trailed by this much at the half at home was against Auburn in 1999.

Kudos to Ramarcus Brown -- the only Bulldog doing his job tonight. Another good kickoff that gives Georgia the ball at its own 43 with 1:17 to play. Georgia's last-ditch effort in the half ends, however, when Stafford simply threw a ball up for grabs into double coverage -- an easy INT. That pass looked like it came out of sheer frustration. No one has been open tonight, and I think Stafford just decided he was putting it up no matter what. There's a good mix of boos with the tepid encouragement as Georgia trots off the field of the half.

The ugly first-half numbers:
First downs: Alabama 17, Georgia 4.
Yards: Alabama 231, Georgia 114.
Rushing yards: Alabama 92, Georgia 27
Turnovers: Alabama 0, Georgia 2
Penalties: Alabama 1-5, Georgia 6-66
Time of possession: Alabama 20:05, Georgia 9:55

FIRST QUARTER UPDATE: What do know -- Mr. Walsh can boot a kick when he needs to. Nice touchback to start the game. Must say, don't think I've ever heard it this loud in here. Dannell Ellerbe was shaken up on Alabama's third-down conversion. He jogged off the field, looking OK, but was taken to the locker room. First catch of the day for a No. 8, and it belongs to Julio Jones. It came on a roll out by J.P. Wilson in which Jones was wide open. Alabama is playing conservative so far, but it's working. Prince Miller was beaten badly on a play-action pass and was called for a pass interference to set Alabama up with a first-and-10 at the 21. Wilson has had all kinds of time to throw as Georgia has keyed in on the running game. Making Wilson beat you is the smart game plan, but so far he's doing it. On third-and-long, Georgia finally brought the blitz and Alabama was ready for it -- running a screen to Glen Coffee for a big gain. Coffee fumbled, but it didn't matter when Georgia was flagged for its 916th roughing the passer penalty of the season. Seriously? Why is this still an issue? These are the things that cost you close games. Mark Ingram finished the drive with a 7-yard touchdown. Alabama has now outscored its opponents 71-0 in the first quarter this season.

Leave it to Knowshon to put the charge back into the crowd. His 12-yard reception takes the Dawgs to midfield. It's early, but this is a crucial drive. Dangerous pass from Stafford to Moreno that lost yardage. Knowshon basically pulled the ball away from two defenders. Stafford has been under a good bit of pressure on this first drive, and Mimbs comes in to punt after the Dawgs can't convert a third and long.

Thanks to Arenas' magic, the punt netted only 13 yards, and Bama will start at its own 35.

In a nice gesture, the crowd sang "Happy Birthday" to Larry Munson in unison. Classy moment.

This is looking a lot more like the Dawgs of the South Carolina game than the Dawgs out West. Once again, it's close but no cigar trying to get to the QB, as Wilson scrambles for a first down. On the next play, Georgia flushed Wilson out of the pocket, forcing him to throw out of bounds. Once again, however, a big play is offset by a defensive holding flag. This is getting ridiculous. Another personal foul call on Georgia follows -- Bama inside the Georgia 20. If there were a manual on how to lose a ballgame, the Dawgs would be following it to the letter right now. The only savior has been the impressive run defense. On third-and-1, a host of Dawgs stopped Ingram to force the field-goal unit onto the field. Minor victory though. These penalties have to stop. The 10-0 Bama lead has effectively neutralized Georgia's best asset -- the crowd. On a bright note, the students in the end zone keep throwing the football away instead of returning it to the field after an Alabama score.

I'll say this -- Ramarcus Brown is going to break one soon. He's been a block away on a number of kicks over the past two weeks. Tonight might be a good night for it to happen.

END OF FIRST: 10-0, Alabama.

MORE PREGAME NEWS: Two quick things: 1.) Justin Houston and Demarcus Dobbs are getting the start tonight at DE. Second, check out
Paul Dehner's blog of the top 10 signs seen at GameDay today. He left out "Alabama Girls Blackout Every Saturday Night" but otherwise it was a fairly complete list.

PREGAME UPDATE: We're just about an hour away from kickoff. I must say, the black jerseys are looking pretty sharp. Also looking sharp is Knowshon Moreno, who is sporting a mohawk for tonight's game. It's a nice touch.

I'm not sure the late kickoff time has helped a few of the more hearty partygoers -- there was a pretty steady flow of blood and vomit on my walk here. That wasn't so pleasant. With Ole Miss's win over Florida, however, and another loss by Tennessee, this game has taken on even more significance for the Bulldogs -- something that hardly seemed possible. The stars definitely appear aligned for Georgia tonight, but fate doesn't win football games. I think the five big keys for Georgia will be:

1.) No turnovers. Stafford has been INT-free, and he needs to keep a 0 on that stat line.

2.) Get an early lead. Don't let Alabama hang around. Come out playing aggressive and get 'Bama off its game plan.

3.) Quick passes and draw plays. Georgia's offensive line -- on paper at least -- is overmatched, so the Bulldogs would be well served to force the Tide's pass rush to be a bit less aggressive.

4.) Kickoff and punt coverage. Javy Arenas can be a game changer for 'Bama, and Georgia has struggled on special teams so far. Alabama has yet to prove it can sustain any long drives against a tough defense, so don't hand the Tide good field position.

5.) Stop the run. Put the game on John Parker Wilson's shoulders. If he beats you, well, it was meant to be. Wait... what's that I said about fate?

Anyway, that's my two cents. For those of you -- and there aren't many, I'm guessing -- who aren't at the game, feel free to post your thoughts, opinions and questions throughout the game. I'll have 1-2 updates per quarter. Enjoy the ballgame!

Q&A with Desmond Howard

(photo by Morgan Cogswell)

I've spent the better part of the past two days hanging around the "GameDay" set. I'll have a feature on the experience in Sunday's Telegraph, but here's a quick Q&A with ESPN's Heisman-winning analyst, Desmond Howard.

David Hale: Most people seem to think this is going to be a smash-mouth SEC throwback game. Is that what you foresee?

Desmond Howard: Without a doubt. Both teams have quarterbacks who can air it out and who are veterans in this game, but it's going to be determined by who can run the ball and who can stop the run.

Hale: A lot has been made of the "blackout" this week. Obviously that doesn't get you any yards on the field, but do you think it can have a real effect on the outcome of the game?

Howard: I think because of the noise, crowd noise can always play a part. Obviously right out the gate, the home team is going to be just amped up. They're going to be so excited, and they're going to get after it. But that dies down. What goes on throughout the game is that the crowd has to keep re-energizing their home team and make enough noise that they make it difficult on the opponents.

Hale: So if this will be an old-school ground game, does that help or hurt Georgia?

Howard: Georgia's offensive line is still a work in progress to me. This is their biggest test. Arizona State couldn't bring the heat like Nick Saban will. But if they can control the line of scrimmage, I think they have an advantage, but if they can't, it's going to be a long day for the Bulldogs. Whereas for Alabama, I think they don't have the issues on the O line that Georgia has. It's going to be tough.

Hale: A.J. Green had a big breakout game last week for Georgia, and that really opened up some running room for Knowshon Moreno in the second half. Is that something that Georgia might try to do again this week?

Howard: The thing about stretching the field vertically is you've got to give the quarterback some time. If they're going to put Stafford in the seven-step drop, they're going to really firm up up front to give that guys some time. That's going to be the key. If he has time, Stafford's going to pick you apart. He's going to definitely find the open guy, and he's going to hit his target. But it all comes down to those guys in front of him, how they're going to perform in the trenches, how they hold off that 'Bama blitz package.

Hale: Speaking of those battles in the trenches, what have you seen from Alabama's Terrence Cody?

Howard: He's a big guy who moves extremely well for his size and is hard to move out. He takes up a lot of space in the middle.

Hale: Alabama also has a great playmaker in its return game in Javy Arenas. How big of an impact can he make in this game?

Howard: I think special teams could play a huge role in this game. I think that's the thing that hasn't been talked about a lot. When you have a game that we anticipate is going to be a hard-fought game in the trenches with both teams trying to impose their will on the other team, especially to run the ball, field position is going to be key, and that's where special teams comes into play.

Hale: What would you say is the key to winning for both teams?

Howard: It's the trenches. Whoever can stop the run and establish the run is going to win this game, unless turnovers. Turnovers are always the X-factor. You can't turn the ball over, that goes without saying. But if everything is even, no turnovers, not a bunch of penalties, the team that's going to win is the team that has the most rushing yards. Unless these cats decide to go off script and start airing it out.

Hale: So do you have a prediction on the outcome?

Howard: I think it's going to be like the LSU-Auburn game last week, a real close game. It'll probably be less than seven points, less than 10 points. I picked Georgia to win. I've just got to believe they're going to find a way with the talent and with the home-field advantage that they're going to have. It's going to be an aggressive ballgame. I can't wait. It's one of those games, I really struggle with picking it because it could go either way. But I just think Coach Richt and his staff, they're going to find way to win like they did last year in Tuscaloosa.

Blackout Links (9/27)

Just a small batch of links today as we prep for the biggest game in Athens in years.

-- The AJC's Tony Barnhart has an excellent piece on the best plays of the Alabama-Georgia rivalry.

-- Tim Tucker puts into perspective just how big this game really is.

-- The Gameday Chef has his recipe for a Georgia victory.

-- The Dothan Eagle says the offensive lines will determine who wins today.

-- Quite rightfully, I think, Get the Picture wonders why everyone is so impressed by Alabama's wins so far.

-- And finally, no matter who wins tonight, you can be happy you aren't associated with Georgia Tech. No word yet on whether you can download this to your iPod.

Herbstreit on UGA-Bama

I spent my Friday afternoon with the "GameDay" folks. I'll have a full Q&A on the game with Desmond Howard a little later today, but here are some thoughts from Kirk Herbstreit on today's game...

On whether Georgia or Alabama could jump up to No. 1 with a win:
"If Georgia wins, they went to South Carolina and won. They went to Arizona State and won. And now they'd have beaten Alabama who is a top-10 team, that's a pretty good resume. And Alabama, what they did with Clemson, what they did last week with Arkansas, if they can win on the road in Athens, that would be a strong case. But you've got Oklahoma though, which to me is a very talented team. Who's No. 1 though, for me, in early October is irrelevant. If you're Alabama and you run the table, you win all your games, you're going to be in the national championship, in my opinion. If you're Georgia, especially Georgia with their schedule, if they run the table, they're going to be in the national championship. It's almost like a whole bunch of energy and hostility over nothing because it's really not important."

On Alabama's weaknesses:
"They're paper thin. That's the difference between ‘Bama and Georgia, Florida and LSU. They don't have the depth. Their margin of error is so slight. If John Parker Wilson gets hurt, they're in big trouble. If Caldwell gets hurt, they're in trouble. If any of these crucial ingredients go down, they don't have anybody. So they have to stay healthy in order to have the kind of year they want to have."

On the key to the game:
"Everyone's talking about the running game. Up to this point, (Jim) McElwain has put him in a position and the offense in a position where they are more physical than everybody else they play. They just wear them out. You can't do that this week. So John Parker Wilson's ability to throw on first-and-10 is the key to the whole game. And it doesn't have to be 80 yards downfield. Just hit the tight end, dump it to the back, once in a while to Julio Jones or McCoy down the field. Then they get back to pounding the ball. I think (Wilson), not just his ability to throw, his decision-making, a three-year starter in this conference, he's not going to be intimidated by a blackout. He's not going to be intimidated by Georgia. Just go out and make plays, and if he plays well, they'll win."

On what fans think of him:
"In the South, they think I'm bias toward the Big Ten. The overpassionate fans think that. But in the Big Ten, they think I'm anti-Ohio State and anti-Big Ten. I could give you the same analysis on one game, and if it involved the SEC and the Big Ten, the SEC people would think it was one thing and the Big Ten people would think it's the other. That's just the way it is, and I could really care less. I just say what I think."

Friday, September 26, 2008

10 Questions: Georgia vs. Alabama

Black Jerseys. "GameDay." Prime time, nationally televised game. A huge throng of media. A sold out crowd with all day to tailgate. The first matchup of two top-10 teams at Sanford Stadium in years. And the No. 1 ranking on the line. Do games get any bigger than this?

To whet your appetite, here are 10 key questions surrounding Saturday's Georgia-Alabama showdown.

1.) Can Ben Jones scale Mount Cody?

This is the biggest matchup of the game. Alabama's DT Terrence Cody weighs in somewhere in the neighborhood of 370 pound but combines his heft with surprising athleticism. He's been a terror on the line so far this season, stuffing opponents' running games and knocking down QBs. He'll be matched against a true freshman in Jones, who is making just his second career start. Jones looked good against Arizona State last week, playing every snap, and Mark Richt and company are putting their faith in him again. Considering Jones is OK with eating dead grasshoppers, something tells me he's not intimidated.

2.) Can A.J. Green add to the legend?

Most pundits will look at this matchup and figure whichever team wins at the line of scrimmage wins the game, and that might be true. But where Georgia has a real advantage is in its passing game. What Green did last week in the first half set the tone for the game, and if he can have a similarly productive first half this week, Georgia will win this game. If Matthew Stafford can hit a few passes to Green vertically, it opens up the running game and takes the pressure off Georgia's O line which, on paper, is not as good as Alabama's front seven.

3.) Can the Dawgs punch it in?

Twice last week Georgia had drives end inside Arizona State's 1. Granted, neither were crucial to the game's outcome, but against an opponent like Alabama, the Dawgs must take advantage of every scoring opportunity they get. Two weeks ago, Georgia also had a number of key drops that killed drives. That can't happen against Alabama either. Scoring chances may be rare in this game for both teams, so those opportunities can't be missed.

4.) Will the stout run defense keep it up?

In the past two weeks, Georgia has allowed 22 yards rushing. Alabama's Glen Coffee had three rushes that long last week alone. Alabama wants to run the ball -- a lot. The Crimson Tide's offensive line is big and bruising and has had no trouble against overmatched opponents so far this year, but Georgia provides a much bigger challenge. Corvey Irvin, Geno Atkins, Brandon Wood and Kade Weston have been Georgia's real unsung heroes so far this season, and if they can force Alabama to abandon the run, it will be a big victory for the Dawgs.

5.) Can John Parker Wilson win a big game?

Alabama would probably prefer not to find out. Wilson is a veteran quarterback with a few good games on his resume, but he hasn't been asked to do that much for the Tide so far. Alabama has run the football on more than 60 percent of its snaps this season, and the running game has staked the Tide to big leads early in three of four games. If Georgia gets its way, that won't happen this time around, and the game will be on Wilson's shoulders.

6.) Will Georgia's luck with fumbles continue?

Georgia has five fumbles in the past two games but has recovered all of them. A big portion of that comes down to luck -- which way the ball bounces. That stuff has a way of evening out, and while the Bulldogs have been able to come up with key turnovers when it has mattered most in the past two weeks, those trends can swing quickly. Stafford has done a great job of protecting the football through the air -- he has yet to throw an INT -- but the rest of the team needs to keep a handle on it on the ground.

7.) How healthy are the defensive ends?

Defensive ends Jeremy Lomax and Jarius Wynn will both play Saturday, but both left last week's game with injuries. Richt said both practiced Thursday without limitations, but that doesn't mean they are 100 percent. With Rod Battle out, there isn't much depth at the position for Georgia. All due respect to Andrew Gulley, who assisted on a sack a week ago, but if Georgia is relying on him by game's end, it's probably a bad sign.

8.) Can the kick coverage improve?

Alabama returner Javy Arenas is no joke. He's capable of taking every kick to the house, and Georgia hasn't shown a penchant for pinning opponents deep. Blair Walsh has struggled at both deep and directional kickoffs at times, and Georgia's coverage on both kicks and punts has had its problems. In a close game -- which most expect this to be -- Georgia can't afford to give up big plays on special teams or give Bama great field position to start drives throughout.

9.) Will Lee Corso sport an elephant or bulldog head?

ESPN's "GameDay" makes its first trip to Athens in 10 years, which adds to the already electric atmosphere surrounding this game. The show will be filmed in the Myers Quad on campus and there will no doubt be a huge throng of Georgia fans there to provide enthusiasm. Of course, the highlight is always when Mr. Corso picks the game of the day by donning the mascot head of his selection. If it's the Dawgs, the crowd will go nuts. If it's not, he'll probably need security to escort him to his car.

10.) Will the Dawgs finally get some love in the polls?

With USC's loss to Oregon State, the top spot in the polls is up for grabs. Oklahoma plays Texas Christian this week, which is hardly the same level opponent as Alabama. If Georgia can come out with a victory Saturday, it should take its rightful spot atop the polls.

Friday Links (9/26)

Just a quick handful of links this morning...

-- Looks like Georgia has a shot to get back to the top of the polls.

-- An oil man thinks the Georgia-Bama game should be postponed due to the gas shortage in Athens.

-- Mark Richt got a visit from a Supreme Court justice on Thursday.

-- Quintin Banks will return to Georgia's secondary this week, but John Knox has made progress in Banks' absence.

-- The AJC explores the impact of Georgia's fashion choice for this week's game.

-- USA Today has a story on Alabama's massive offensive line.

-- The Chattanooga Times Free Press has a piece on what A.J. Green's emergence (along with Matthew Stafford's arm) has done for the Georgia offense.

-- Georgia Sports Blog remembers the last time "GameDay" paid a visit to Athens.

-- Hard to fault ESPN for not coming to UGA for so long. I mean, clearly they have some fine decision makers working at the network.

-- The Washington Times calls Saturday's game a battle of speed vs. power. Not sure if they've seen Knowshon run, but I wouldn't call speed his lone weapon. I think both these teams can hit with the best of them.

-- In fact, the Augusta Chronicle says Knowshon isn't too worried about Bama.

-- UGA is getting a new dorm with some new rules.

-- And finally, I'm not really sure what the saddest part of this story is -- the fact that the attempt failed or the fact that they tried in the first place. Then again, I've also tried to see how many M&Ms I could fit in my mouth at one time and that, too, ended poorly.